Doug Fischer

Gym Notes: tough sparring session proves Margarito is not a shot fighter

Robert Garcia laces up Antonio Margarito's gloves prior to a recent workout. Margarito, who fights Manny Pacquiao on Nov. 13, has looked strong in sparring sessions. Garcia is also gradually improving the former welterweight titleholder’s technique. Photo / Chris Farina-Top Rank

This is the second part of a two-part Gym Notes column.

I’ll be making the trip to Dallas to cover the Manny Pacquiao-Antonio Margarito fight.

If I thought Margarito, who was brutally knocked out by Shane Mosley and tepid in out-pointing tough-but-unaccomplished Roberto Garcia in his last two fights, was a spent bullet, I wouldn’t bother booking a flight to Texas.

Why be ringside for what I know will be a slaughter?

However, from what I observed during what is now the fifth week of his training camp in Oxnard, Calif. — an eight-round mitt session on Saturday and a 10-round sparring session on Monday — there’s plenty of fight left in Margarito. The former three-time welterweight beltholder’s legs looked sturdy, his reflexes were sharp and he appeared to punch with power.

This doesn’t mean that Margarito won’t still be outclassed or even blown out by Pacquiao, who’s made a habit of exceeding expectations in recent years, but if he is, it won’t be because he was shot.

“He’s definitely not shot,” said Cleotis Pendarvis, one four sparring partners along with Ricardo Williams, Austin Trout and K.C. Martinez, who went 10 rounds with Margarito on Monday. “If he was shot, he wouldn’t have been able to do what he did today. He did 10 rounds with four talented young sparring partners. We’re not old journeymen that he can beat up on. We can fight.”

Indeed they can. That was evident during Monday’s brisk session because Margarito made them stand and fight.

Williams (16-2, 9 KOs), a 29-year-old silver medalist from the 2000 Olympic Games who has won six bouts since serving a 31-month prison term for his part in a cocaine-distribution ring, sparred the first three rounds with Margarito.

Williams has Pacquiao’s squat build and comparable hand speed but he lacks the Filipino icon’s explosiveness. But his quick jab and smooth lateral movement tested Margarito’s ability to cut the ring off on a constantly moving opponent.

Margarito performed well, in my opinion. The 32-year-old veteran closed the distance quickly, pressing Williams into corners. The cagey southpaw slipped, ducked and shoulder rolled away from the head shots that Margarito rained on him while he was seemingly trapped but the body shots got through.

Williams landed punches, too, mainly counter straight lefts as Margarito forced him back into the ring posts, but his best shots didn’t seem to bother the bigger man.

I made note of Margarito’s ability to take a flush shot because the last time I watched him spar, prior to the Mosley fight, less experienced boxers with far less talent than Williams stopped him in his tracks with every clean punch they landed.

“He takes a good shot,” Williams said after the session, “and he sets a really fast pace, which wears you out quick in a small ring like this one.”

Margarito immediately smothered Williams at the start of the second round, forcing him to hold and grapple inside. The more body shots Margarito landed, the quicker the sparring session began to resemble an exercise in survival for Williams. However, the gutsy Cincinnati native landed a crisp three-punch combination with 35 seconds left in the round. He connected with a left cross a second after the bell that brought a scowl to Margarito’s long face.

The late punch seemed to wake Margarito up in terms of his technique. He worked a jab as he stalked Williams, kept his hands up and even blocked some incoming shots before he launched his left hooks to the body.

Next up was Pendarvis (10-3-2, 4 KOs), who sparred rounds four, five and six with Margarito. Like Williams, Pendarvis (known as “Mookie” to his friends) is a squat southpaw with quick hands and feet. But the L.A. native also has shocking power, as undefeated welterweight prospect Hector Sanchez learned when Pendarvis knocked out the 6-foot-1 Puerto Rican in April on Showtime.

Those Pacquiao fans who are getting nervous over reports of how strong Margarito looks in training would instantly regain confidence in their hero if they witnessed the Mexican’s first round of sparring against Pendarvis. (They might get to see some of it as Monday was the first day that HBO’s six-man 24/7 production crew set up shop in Robert Garcia’s gym, and you better believe the cameras were rolling as Mookie put on his show.)

Pendarvis, who has become an expert in imitating Pacquiao in the gym having sparred with both Oscar De La Hoya and Ricky Hatton before their showdowns with the pound-for-pound king, looked almost as explosive as the Filipino icon for one full round.

The 23-year-old speed demon darted in and out and around Margarito, popping a snappy jab and stopping on a dime to burst with hard and flashy three- and four-punch combinations. Pendarvis landed lead hooks followed by flush uppercuts and lefts to the body before spinning out of harm’s way. Put short, Mookie did in this round of sparring what most believe Pacquiao will do to an even greater degree in every round of the Nov. 13 fight.

We’ll see, but I should mention that Margarito blocked a lot of punches with his gloves and forearms and never appeared discouraged. Pendarvis, though still effective, was not near as active in their second round of sparring. Margarito absorbed flush uppercuts as he advanced forward but he doggedly pursued Pendarvis to the ropes, where he teed off on the shorter man’s body. He even caught Pendarvis with a head-snapping jab as the quicker fighter spun away from the ropes.

Margarito didn’t always punch as he cut off the ring but he stayed on top of Pendarvis, bearing down on the smaller man during their clinches, constantly enticing the southpaw to stand and trade, which he did during the final minute of the round. Pendarvis looked spent by the beginning of their third round (Margarito’s sixth). He slipped to the canvas twice, a sign that his legs were giving out, as Margarito swarmed him for three minutes. Pendarvis showed heart and landed single punches until the sound of the bell despite those weakening legs, making me jot down in my notes that he provided “quality rounds.”

Pendarvis claims that he wasn’t able to provide that kind of quality when he sparred with De La Hoya and Hatton.

“Oscar and Ricky were already on their way down before they fought Pacquiao,” he said. “All us sparring partners had to take it easy on them. In fact, we were told to take it easy on them. Even holding back I almost knocked Ricky out three different times. Nobody has to hold back on Margarito.”

Nobody did on Monday, especially Trout (21-0, 13 KOs), the third man in Margarito’s rotation who provided the “power surge” of the sparring session in rounds seven and eight. Unlike Williams and Pendarvis, the sharp-shooting 25-year-old boxer-puncher from Las Cruses, N.M., is big and strong enough to stand his ground with Margarito.

And that’s just what Trout did during their first round. The junior middleweight prospect, who probably outweighs Margarito by 10 pounds, exchanged hard punches from close range and immediately got the better of his “employer.” Superior speed and technique enabled Trout’s arrow-straight one-two combinations to connect first and often and the young man’s shots landed with head-snapping power, often halting Margarito’s forward march.

However, Margarito was undaunted. He quickly resumed his pressure, inching closer to Trout as the round progressed, forcing the seemingly stronger man to decide whether to throw more leather or move his feet more. Trout went with the second option, breathing heavy as the end of the round neared with Margartio in pursuit.

Trout continued to snap Margarito’s head back with jabs and straight lefts during their second round. He even landed some hard body shots. Margartio, to his credit, tried to move his head and block as many punches as he could. He’s not going to remind anyone of Winky Wright but he was able to parry a fair number of incoming shots. Once in close, the two 5-foot-11 junior middleweights mixed a lot of grappling with their infighting.

Margarito continued to work on blocking and parrying punches against Martinez (2-0, 2 KOs), who provided the final two rounds of Monday’s session. The 19-year-old amateur standout from Houston exhibited good speed, balance and footwork against Margarito, who held back and only worked a light jab as he walked down the youth.

I thought Margarito looked solid; not as sharp as he was during the peak of his training for Miguel Cotto but he appeared as good or better than he did for his camps for Kermit Cintron and Joshua Clottey.

Margarito’s co-manager Sergio Diaz thought his fighter looked a bit flat.

“I thought he was a little tight, maybe because of the HBO cameras,” Diaz said. “He looked a little rough, a little sluggish at the start. It took him a while to get into his rhythm.”

Margarito had his rhythm while he worked the mitts with Garcia after the sparring session. The 5-foot-6 trainer, who is working his second fight with Margarito, donned a protective body suit and assumed a southpaw stance to mimic Pacquiao’s various attack sequences. (And although Garcia is nowhere near as fast as Pacquiao or Margarito’s sparring partners, the 35-year-old former junior lightweight titleholder did a good job of it.)

Trout, who was one of Margarito’s main sparring partners for the Paul Williams fight, noted the veteran’s improved technique as he observed the mitt session while working a heavy bag.

“He’s shortening up on his punches,” he said. “He’s little bit faster than I remember.”

Trout says Margarito is just as strong as he was during the Williams camp but smarter.

“This is a big change from the Williams camp because Margarito is bringing more than conditioning,” he said. “His conditioning and strength improved during the Williams camp but his form never changed. He made the same mistakes at the end of the camp as he did at the start.

“In this camp, I’ve noticed that he’s doing things this week that he didn’t do two weeks ago. He‘s working a jab and he‘s not swinging as much with his body shots. He‘s changing up his combinations, too.”

However, Margarito’s bread and butter is still his pressure, which seems to suck the energy out of his opponents and sparring partners.

I asked Trout, Pendarvis and Williams how soon they begin to feel the effects of Margarito’s pressure when they step into the ring with him.

“You start to feel it by the second round,” said Trout. “It’s real.”

“With Margarito you feel the pressure from the first round because he throws eight shots in one combination,” Pendarvis said. “I’m slick so I can block or slip three or four of them, even when my back is to the ropes, but three or four still get through. That’s what wears you down.”

“When do you start to feel the pressure?” Williams asked rhetorically. “The first time he gets you with a good body shot.”

Margarito’s sparring partners obviously don’t believe he’s a faded fighter or deserves to be the 6-to-1 underdog that odds makers have made him, and he certainly didn’t appear shopworn during Monday’s workout, which begs the question:

What the hell was wrong with him in the Mosley and Garcia fights?

Margarito’s co-manager Francisco Espinoza gave me his answer to that query.

“Forget about the Mosley fight,” he said. “He lost that fight because he killed himself making weight. It was a bad camp at the worst time in Tony’s career because it came after he beat Miguel Cotto. Tony took a break and enjoyed life for the first time after the Cotto fight. He didn’t get right back into the gym the way he had done for the 10 or 11 years that I’ve worked with him. He vacationed in Hawaii twice, visited the Dominican Republic, traveled all over the U.S. doing TV and making appearances.

“By the time the Mosley fight was finally offered he was the heaviest of his career. He entered camp 39 pounds over his fighting weight and we only had seven weeks to drop it. I didn’t want him to take the fight. I told him to cancel it, but you know Tony, he wants to fight. He was confident that he could lose the weight, but it was so much that it hurt him. He was used to losing 17 to 18 pounds in eight weeks. Losing 39 to 40 pounds in seven weeks weakened him too much.”

And the lackluster showing against Garcia in May?

“That was my fault,” Espinoza said. “That was me. I wanted him to box the entire fight. I begged him to box no matter what. We couldn’t afford anything crazy to happen. He was in with a strong kid and I didn’t want him to get caught or cut. Even after Tony dropped him in the first round, I told him to box and to back away. That wasn’t what Tony wanted to do or what Robert wanted to do. That was me.

“I just wanted to win. We were talking to [Margarito and Pacquiao’s promoter] Bob [Arum] at that time and he told us to ‘be ready, be on standby because Floyd [Mayweather] is not taking [the Pacquiao] fight.’”

Margarito got the ‘W’ and the rest, as they say, is history.

Less than two years after having his boxing licensed yanked by the California State Athletic Commission for his part in attempting to load his wraps against Mosley, Margarito is getting a shot at the biggest star in the sport.

Will he be able to capitalize on what many feel is an undeserved opportunity?

Team Margarito believes so.

“If Freddie Roach took this fight thinking the Margarito of the last two fights is what Pacquiao will get, then he made a big mistake,” said Espinoza.

“Freddie Roach is a great trainer, but he’s got his work cut out for him with this fight,” Pendarvis said. “It’s going to be a fight because Tony is going to take it to Pacquiao and test him the way he hasn’t been tested since he came up to welterweight. I’m not trying to be disrespectful to Roach because I think he’s one of the best trainers in the world. I’m a fan of Pacquiao’s. But I know from being in the ring with De La Hoya and Hatton that he didn‘t fight them at their best. Cotto tried to give it to [Pacquiao] but I think he was still damaged from his fight with Margarito.

“This is the first time Pacquaio is fighting a bigger man who is emotionally, mentally and physically ready for him. He’s going to get hit in this fight. He’s not going to be as slick as Margarito’s sparring partners, and we get hit. Pacquiao is a brawler at heart. He has the same will and determination that Margarito has. That’s why I think it’s going to be a great fight. It’s going to be good for boxing.”

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